randonneur avec tablette

Apps, websites, mobile websites: what use in outdoors?

Some services, such as weather or maps are available as a website, a mobile website or an app. What should be preferred for the practice of outdoor sports?

Websites: (almost) useless offline

Traditional websites are primarily designed to be viewed from a PC with keyboard and mouse. Their design therefore makes it less easy to use from a touchscreen. In addition, a website is not accessible offline. E. g. if you prepare a path from home on Google Maps, it will be unusable once out of the door, unless you have a data connection all the way ... Still there are a few tricks to take along some web content without data connection (see below)

Apps: a must for quality content offline

On the contrary, an app is a local program thought for the specific ergonomics of your tablet / smartphone: it takes full advantage of device's capabilities - touchscreen, photo sensor, GPS etc. - to provide services incredibly easy to use.

As apps reside in permanent memory, they can be used in open nature. Well...in theory at least: in fact many apps do need a connection to work, or are booby-traps designed to trick you a few euros for a service close to zero. It is therefore essential to choose carefully the ones that will accompany you on your way out. That comment aside, apps are irreplaceable for those who need quality content, reliable and available at all times.

Mobile sites: only for smartphones

Between the two, we find mobile sites: Ergonomics is better suited to the Touch navigation but they are still websites, i.e. unusable offline. Also mobile websites are often light versions of original website, thus offering less services or content. In general, for reasons of screen size, prefer the web version on a classic tablet and the mobile version on a smartphone.

How to take web content with you

Still, there are many situations where you would need to access some documentation or web content offline. For example, you may want to take along the PDF documentation of your equipment, or a few pages from a travel guide that is freely available on the web. In this case, several options are available to you.

For example on the iPhone / iPad:

- when viewing a PDF document, just email it to the tablet, then use the function "Open in" to keep an easily accessible copy in iBooks

- even easier, if you view a web page on your iPad, is to use the "Reading list" function which can be accessed via the small button with the outgoing arrow in Safari. It is now also available in the Mac version of Safari as explained on this blog entry

- finally, you can simply make a screenshot which will appear as a photo in your iPhone/iPad photo album by pressing " On / off" and "Home" buttons simultaneously. Beware: if you use this to take a topographic map with you, you will not see any GPS positionning, it's just a photo ..


In summary if you need reliable content (maps, weather, positioning etc) in a nomadic situation, always prefer quality apps. Check forums and specialized blogs to detect the best. It is worth spending a few euros and avoid taking unnecessary risks. For some content however, it can be useful to keep a document base available anywhere, thanks to the tips listed above.